Monday, June 29, 2009

A birthday story

Alas but hurrah - to the fact that I finish 28 years on the planet today. I know I should be sad that I'm turning older, but the thing is, each time I look back in time, I realize this is the best that life has ever been, and so there's really no need to turn the clock back, or relive a certain age. Nothing beats being where I am now! :D

Now I'd hoped that this birthday would gently pass me by and not get on anyone's radar, but the Penguin, determined young woman that she is, would not let that happen. And so a sepprise bday party was arranged by her.

On Friday evening, young V asked me to do dinner with him and his girl D on Sunday night. Since I'm naturally gifted with Sherlock like sharp instincts (and also because V, D and I don't EVER plan meals more than 2 hours in advance), I instantly knew something was up.

To cut a long story short, after I almost cancelled my own surprise party (You can call me a bitch now if you like. I can understand), the Penguin finally confronted me and told me to shut up and turn up coz people had been invited and the cake had been baked.

And I'm so glad she did! :-)

The 1st thing I noticed as I walked in was the usual suspects seated on the floor. AND a laptop propped up on the couch looking over, what was undoubtedly going to be the table on which the cake would be cut.

Strange, I thought to myself. Until I saw what was on the screen and almost fell down from the sheer ingenuity of it all (or from my own clumsiness at tripping on the foot of the table. We don't have to conclude which one, right now)!

On the screen was a webcam image of P projecting himself from his living room about 20000 miles away. Proud grin on face to boot! Suddenly the significance of what had originally sounded like a rather late party (9 pm in Singapore = 9 am on the east coast, USA, where P lives) dawned upon me.

As the Penguin brought out cake that she'd baked herself (deep dark chocolate. Sinful, but oh so good, like most things in life :D) and started to precisely count out candles to stick on it, I felt supremely ashamed of how idiotic I had been to almost ditch this event. Not to mention incredibly lucky to have someone love me enough to plan out such an elaborate event involving all the people I love - even if 1 of them lives in a different continent.

We spent the next 1.5 hours doing what we do best - making nonsensical conversation, stuffing our faces with cake and alcohol and making fun of the birthday girl (Ahem - ME). And even after P signed off and got on with his Sunday, the others stayed on and got drunker and drunker.

At some point, we realized that the wine had almost run out, and the Penguin brought out a bottle of Moet Chandon that she'd been saving for a special occasion (Smug grin on face - check) and we proceeded to get more happy as BlueBagel played incredible AR Rahman music. The finishing touch to the evening was the Penguin's rendition of happy birthday on her violin.

Sigh. Watta budday!

So far, today has been wonderful, and I'm now going to get home and cook everyone from last evening a nice meal of risotto and paella.

But for everyone who made it to last evening and esp. to the Penguin who made it all happen - THANKS! You're the best. :D

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Palace of Illusions

I made my acquaintance with Chitra Banerjee's work for the 1st time when I was nineteen and studying engineering. Even for someone who hadn't thought about marriage until then, a title by the name of "Arranged Marriage" was too much to resist.

<-------------Begin Digression---------------->
19 was when I was just about unlearning a lot of what I'd been taught as a child (not quite as much as i unlearned in my B school days 2-3 years later, but that's fodder for a whole new post), one of those many things being the method by which I was expected to marry.

The way it had always been done in the family (for years and years, without exception) was that when I turned 23 or 24, my jaadhagam (horoscope) would be sent out into the matrimony market for perusal by the parents of eligible boys. (Why these very eligible boys weren't looking for girls themselves, was a question that never occurred to me to ask. Perhaps because marriage was a distant reality, one I hoped would never befall me. Academics and accomplishment were far easier and far more fulfilling, asserted the geek in me.).

Once the parents had ascertained a certain compatibility of families, and the matching of horoscopes had been confirmed by various permutations of vaadhiyaars i.e. priests (probability of a wrong match decreases as the number of potbellied vaadhiyaars confirming the match increases) the boy's family would come home to see me - also known in Bombayized Tamil as "ponnu paathufying". While I would have to look my prettiest and coyest best, the parents would ask me to list my talents and while the parents pretended to discuss important worldly matters, the boy and I would be gifted with a generous 20 mins to talk to each other, and make up our minds on whether or not to spend the rest of our lives together.

I shudder even as I explain the above, although much has changed since then. For one, my mother, a big fan of horoscope matches in the 90's, underwent a radical transformation of beliefs by the time the millennium descended upon us and told me to go find my own boy (Tamil or not), failing which she would put me through a friendlier version of the arranged marriage process.

There would be no need to match horoscopes, no need for ponnu paathufying to humiliate me. I could take a few months to talk to the guy on my own terms ("email, chat, phone whatever makes you comfortable, child") and the parents would only meet after we'd OKed the whole thing.

Not like this made me feel much better about the notion of marriage, given coffee with strangers has never really been my forte and knowing me over 2 months of casual meetings is very very different from knowing me with my temper and stubbornness and loving me despite it. Few people had had success in this matter so far, and mathematically, it just didn't seem probable enough that a complete stranger would succeed where I'd manage to put off so many others.

Still, the "Arranged Marriage" process as i knew it at 19 was a diametrically opposite notion to the "We'll Arrange For You To Fall In Love" process that it has now become.
<---------------------End Digression--------------------->

And so I was drawn to a book by the name of "Arranged Marriage" since the devil was rather unfamiliar to me, but was a devil whose name was being dropped around me more often now than when I was 15. The book itself is a series of short stories, in Chitra's lyrical melancholy style. It was my 1st taste of Indian writing and I LOVED it.

Over the years, I've read Sister of my heart (one of my all time favorites), Vine of Desire (a not shabby, but not very worthy sequel to Sister of...), Mistress of Spices and Queen of Dreams (def not her best works).

And I thought I'd read them all until I read Palace of Illusions this weekend. Call me stupid (or call me a feminist!), but I thought the notion of retelling a story of testosterone and adrenalin through the eyes of a woman was a brilliant place to start.

It helps, also, that Chitra echoes my generation's issues with the characters in the epic. I personally always thought Yudhisthir to be an unrealistic idealist, who for all his babbling about Dharma, couldn't save his wife from being molested when push literally came to shove. Bheem has always been in my mind a caricature of a character - the classic stereotype of all brawn and no brain, and I wondered why Nakul and Sahadev were in the story at all given their poorly etched character profiles.

And to the women in the epic, I don't think I ever paid any attention at all. It's only when Chitra starts to narrate Draupadi's story, that you start to see the world through her eyes. That's when you realize that while all this while you took for granted that the women in that era would've been born compliant, they probably had as tough a time following the illogical rules they had to live with, the inane traditions that treated them as lesser beings than men. And when Draupadi resists these, you're tempted to get on her side and resist them with her. This despite her many shortcomings - her temper, her pride, her inability to forgive and her life long resistance to toeing the line (all of which now sounds like me! :O)

As is typical of me, my vote for love of her life also went to the underdog - Karna. And although the whole sub plot of how she falls for her husband's worst enemy is rather Bollywoodishly executed through the book, with glimpses into both their hearts every now and then, and a climax that would put Karan Johar to shame, I still found myself cheering for them at the end.

I'd seriously recommend the Palace of Illusions to anyone who loves reading Indian fiction and is a feminist. (Btw, if you belong to the generation that watched it every Sunday am on Doordarshan, then I promise you, you'll still be able to put a face to all the names.)

And if you walk in with no memory of the women (sidelined as they were in B.R. Chopra's version), Chitra Banerjee will make sure she gives you reason enough to remember them by after you're done with her book. :-)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

About a boy...

This is, indeed, continued from the post before last.


Reason I brought up the whole limited disclosure thing was to be able to gently slide in the presence of the *boy* into this blog.

I've kept him hidden from public view for long enough now, and we're getting to a point where not talking about matters involving him just makes it tough to write anything here. I don't mean to sound like we're joined at the hip. (Far from it, actually. We don't even live in the same city yet.)

But like so much of what happens around me everyday involves the Penguin (and see how she gets mentioned here ever so often?), a lot of what happens in my life also involves the boy. And as fiercely protective as I have been of the privacy of our relationship so far, it's now come to a point where the privacy binds my hands and keeps me from telling stories I'd otherwise have enjoyed telling. The blog suffers as a consequence. And that's just not fair.

So there. There is a boy; there has been for about a year now. And we shall henceforth refer to him as P - not to be confused with the Penguin. And stories shall be told henceforth with no fear of some unseen force avenging me for my happiness (coz insane happiness is what has accompanied the arrival of P)

{And I hereby promise that this is the extent of mush you'll hear from me on the topic.}

How I met P is a story I love to tell because it reinforces my most basic belief that everything happens for a good reason. Since telling the story in it's full form would involve violating the privacy of people other than P and I, I won't quite go there right here right now. Let me just say that it comprised a chain of events that at each point felt like it was the most painful thing to happen, but led to a subsequent and unexpected reward in its wake. (How's that for vague!)

As of today, P and I live on different sides of the world. Our relationship has leveraged technology in the most creative ways imaginable to avoid impoverishing either of us (so far, anyway). No one else has wished for a Harry Potterish floo network / portkey system of transportation (you know the kind where you vaporize out of one place only to appear instantly at your destination vs. sitting through a 24 hour flight?) as much as I have.

P and I have spent the last 1 year trying to plan when and how to end up in the same city (even country). Every individual purchase decision has been accompanied by 2nd thoughts on the lines of "is this too heavy to move if I move to be with her/him?". Changes in the economy have had implications on our life far beyond anything we imagined. It has put into question the very possibility of keeping both our jobs while being in the same city.

Funny thing is, while the visual in your head is of me pulling out my hair, I'm actually smiling as I write all this coz I'm realizing we've made it alive through a lot of crap like this and haven't lost the ability to laugh at ourselves and things around us :)

Closure on our situation is probably a month, maybe more, in the coming. Living together is probably 3-5 months away. Until then, we've made our peace with the uncertainty and given it it's place in our lives. After all, as a wise friend once told me, stability is not an end state. It's simply a moving target.

Net - If there's anything I've learned in this relationship, it's probably that you can't let anticipation of the destination ruin the journey for you. And I am determined to savor every bit of this journey, while it lasts :-)


The Penguin and I are leaving for a weekend trip to Malaysia tomorrow, which is why I figured I'd write this now. We're staying in this rainforest place and plan to pack in a trek, some dolphin sighting and a boat ride through a croc infested swamp in the dark. The last is not as dangerous as it sounds i'm sure, but if I don't come back, you know which animal to blame.

Be good and rest well (while we paint Malaysia red). And don't tell my mother about the crocodiles.

Saturday, June 13, 2009


*Note - This isn't a continuation from previous post.*
I've always felt like nature conspires to make me feel better when I'm going through an exceptional case of the blues. As lover of rainy weather, the way this generally goes is, the more upset I am, the heavier it rains, and the windier it gets.

Another weird phenomenon, not correlated with the blues is that weather in cities that I'm visiting does an about turn for the better as soon as I land, and goes back to normal the moment I'm on the flight out.

Cases in above points are my internship in Madras in 2004 (a 1st in 10 years summer showers spate kept the temperature at an unbelievable 24 to 25 degrees vs. the usual 30 something) all trips to the US in the last 2 years (bar the Jan end trip where I refused to leave the house for fear of freezing to death) and all days in Singapore where it has rained and made you go "WTF! It was bright and sunny until a minute ago, where did that rain come from?"


I've recently begun to feel very strongly that my job with its constant need for improvement and striving for perfection has only made me more and more critical of myself and others. Worse still, I'm now quicker than ever to point out flaws and trying to fix them. A perfectly fine attitude that might make me successful in the workplace, but risks alienating all the people I love with the constant need to have everything in place and on time.

I'm sure all jobs ask for perfection, so maybe this is just me responding in an undesirable manner to well intentioned conditioning that is supposed to prepare me for success? Or not?

What, if not that, explains my godawful penchant for pessimism which only seems to have gotten worse over the last few years?


How would you recommend one prepare themselves for a life of temporary isolation coming up ahead of them? Would you recommend they overdose themselves with social company so intense and frequent that the isolation feels like a relief when it does come?

Do you, instead, recommend they start on the journey already by simulating the lack of an active social life in their own life right now? By staying in Saturday nights, by not calling the folks they once called on a regular basis? By turning into a social recluse now, so that the eventual isolation is just a natural conclusion to a journey already started?


There's a terrible genetic flaw that runs through the women in my mother's side of the family - the tendency to shelter and protect others from any darkness so they can lead comfortable lives oblivious to the stress that exists in their midst.

All of these women are smart, educated, liberated and capable. All successful in their worlds outside the home. From where I stand, I wonder often why they let it happen at all.

Cause, this sheltering, although well meant, eventually makes the recipient so used to its business class comforts, that eventually he loses all will / capacity to grasp the import of problems, more so the tendency to tackle them head on.

This in turn leads to the women lamenting the years of pampering and sheltering the family, and intense disappointment at having to wade through all of life's troubles alone.

I wonder, sometimes, how far down the generations this genetic flaw travels.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

25 days is not a break...

25 days away from one's own blog is more like temp retirement.

But really, I haven't been doing this on purpose. Between the work and the yoga and the busy fun evenings spent bonding with the soon to leave flatmate, there's very little time left to blog.

And anyway, it feels like I censor so much of what's going on in my life that there's very little I can say without violating my self imposed boundaries of privacy. More so lately.

The Penguin often pulls my leg about how I am secretive to the point of being occasionally dishonest on my blog. I try to trip her on semantics, but I have to acknowledge that she is right.

So what is it that makes me hide from the outside world so much of my life? I'm hardly one to be quiet about anything, much less, coy about the details of my personal life. It's certainly not some feminine sense of shame that keeps me from sharing and baring it all. It IS however, a morbid fear that my happiness will be taken away if I reveal too much of it to the world.

You see, for all my good sense, I am endowed with a penchant for superstition, esp. the kind that will take away happiness from you if it realizes you are in possession of over abundant quantities. I am indeed one of those people who in the midst of utter contentment and joy thinks to herself, "What calamity lies round the corner, say?". The eternal optimist and the glass half full are terms obviously alien to my ever-gray vocabulary.

Put simply, for the last year or so, I've followed a strict policy of limited disclosure in this space because I've been scared shitless of losing my happiness if I shared it with the world.

But when I thought about it this morning, I realized, nothing bad has ever come of writing here. The cooking only got better and more experimental. The running is now supplemented by yoga. Travel has grown exponentially. The work after a lot of crap phases is looking up. My health is better, or at least has been attended to by 5 different specialists and is on its way up. The mind has only become clearer, and the spirit stronger.

Ever since the 1st proper post I put up in Nov 06, life may have seen its ups and downs, but the ups have undoubtedly beaten the downs. UNDOUBTEDLY. :-) Even I don't have to be an optimist to see that.

To be continued ....